The University’s Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity chapter has disaffiliated from its national organization and rebranded as the “Epsilon Club.”
The statement of disaffiliation established that economic reasons played a motivating role behind disaffiliation. The history page on their new website reads: “In forming an independent organization, we were also able to lower dues by 37 percent and thus reduce the barriers to entry for low-income students and further improve the diversity of our organization.”
The vast majority of members supported disaffiliation, but chapter leadership acknowledged that the vote was divisive enough that some members decided to leave on “amicable” terms.
“In 2017, 83 percent of the members of the chapter decided to withdraw their membership from the Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity and form an independent organization that is built on the foundations of the culture, camaraderie and traditions of our local chapter’s alumni,” the club’s website reads.
The Epsilon Club hopes to remain integrated in the Greek culture on campus, since their motivations for disaffiliating stem mainly from conflicts with the national organization, not UChicago’s Greek community.
Varshant Dhar, president of the Epsilon Club, along with Chaplain Will Darling and various members of the Epsilon Club, wrote to The Maroon: “Both alumni and current members express a general sense of apathy towards the national organization, as well as a general discomfort towards the implicit association we have with Sig Ep chapters across the nation. There are also many of us who feel that nationals imposes an unreasonable financial strain on our operations which inhibit our recruitment efforts, and our ability to hold member events.”
“Our decision isn’t the result of a specific incident,” Dhar said. “It’s the product of years of deliberation, voting, revoting, and consideration. This just happens to be the year when the motion passed.”
He said disaffiliation has been discussed informally among members for years.
“This issue came up at least once every year for the past 20 odd years. And while we haven’t been holding parliamentary style debates at chapter, brothers have talked amongst each other about this issue for some time. In terms of the actual logistics, we spent last quarter holding chapter presentations from both sides, and then took a vote. Once the motion passed, we contacted nationals and they provided us with the necessary paperwork.”
A final vote came after months of deliberations. While the majority of members voted in favor of disaffiliation, Dhar said, “Some of [the dissenting members] came around to the idea of the Epsilon Club, and now endorse the move wholeheartedly. Those who haven’t [have] left the organization on amicable terms.”
As the club moves in a new direction, Dhar said he hopes to preserve the chapter’s best traditions.
“We always try to provide a welcoming and relaxed social environment. And with our new independence, we hope to improve upon that standard,” he said. “For starters, we remade our yearly Student Excellence Scholarship into a $500 grant for first-years.” The Student Excellence Scholarship is an annual sponsorship rewarded by upperclassmen to chosen first-years determined as high achieving and promising members.
In November, the National Chapter of Sigma Epsilon announced a ban on alcohol at social events. This is a common policy for national fraternities, though it is often disregarded.
Despite the close timing between the announcement and the chapter’s disaffiliation, Dhar insisted that the change held a trivial impact on the club’s ultimate decision.
The Epsilon Club plans to continue hosting social events, and the club’s leadership said they have been working on their sexual assault and harassment policy.
“Our new sexual assault and harassment policy will be signed by every member of the Epsilon Club’s executive board. It’s built from the original FCS [Fraternities Committed to Safety] policy, but includes new articles that address predatory behaviors and sexual misconduct,” Dhar said.
While developing their policies, the Epsilon Club sought counsel from Co-President of the Phoenix Survivors Alliance Simone Brandford-Altsher, who helped construct provisions.
Dhar concluded by saying that he hopes this new independence will guide the club away from the worst elements of Greek culture at the University.
“We hope to maintain the same relationships with UChicago’s Greek community as we have in the past,” Dhar said. “That being said, we also hope this move will be the first of many to craft an organization that might surpass the toxicity of current Greek culture, while preserving its good qualities.”